I almost forgot to put deodorant on before my school visit. If you doubt the seriousness of this near-miss of personal hygiene, you clearly have never referred to one of your drawings with “and this is Number Two” to a classroom of third graders, or sprayed the front of your pants with water from a recalcitrant bathroom faucet–twice–resulting in a snicker-inducing wet spot. Giant pit stains rest securely in the top ten of giggle-producing pandemonium at any elementary school, and rightly so.
Underarms coated twice, I arrived at Anna Marie Jacobson Elementary in Chandler for two presentations to fifth and sixth graders. My visit was part of the week-long Read Across America celebration, but I also had the good fortune of my day coinciding with the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Being greeted by Ms. Cartan in a Cat in the Hat striped top hat with a black nose and whiskers artfully painted on her face can’t help but put you at ease.
The two presentations went off without any embarrassments or technical hitches, and I was once again blown away and deeply impressed by the sea of bright minds before me. Their questions were thoughtful, their answers astute. The idea that we would short change these kids in any way, in the ways we already do, seems criminal and deeply saddening. Here in Arizona we seem to be fighting a losing battle. Certain politicians seem to think that the bare minimum is good enough. Well, it isn’t. The kids at Jacobson elementary and everywhere deserve all we can give them, and I hope that in some small way my presentations said, “I believe in your potential. I will keep on fighting for you. I will not give up on you.” I also hope it said “Making books is a fun and interesting job, and pit stains are not the end of the world.”
“Come with me.”
“I’ll make eggplant Parmesan just for you.”
“No. I am not going to drive all the way to Tucson just to sit around while you do your thing at some conference.”
“Oh, but it’s not a conference, it’s a FESTIVAL!” I zoomed in for the kill. “There’ll be funnel cake!”
Two hours later long-suffering hubby and I arrived at the Tucson Festival of Books on the campus of the University of Arizona. To say it is a large event is an understatement. Don’t believe me? http://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org
I did have “my thing” to do, but in between carrying stuff, holding stuff and guarding stuff while I waited in line for various restrooms, hubby was more than able to entertain himself among the booths, bookstore tents, and of course the food court. I presented with the author of my two books on Muslim holidays, Asma Mobin-Uddin, signed some books, and gave a drawing workshop for kids. The workshop’s four o’clock time slot had me sure I would be taking a well deserved nap instead, but surprisingly I had a nice turnout of future authors and illustrators. Asma and I had to compete in our time-slot with some dude named Mark Teague, of whom I’m VAGUELY aware, so attendance was not standing room only. There is no accounting for taste. This was the first time Asma and I had met in person, something which seems to boggle everyone except writers and illustrators. Usually, an editor or art director umbrella is needed to protect each from the poo storm that is unleashed when one dares to comment or criticize the other’s writing or art. Fortunately, Asma and I realized we could probably have handled it. Mostly.
” Please, please, everyone, no pushing, single file! There’s enough autographs to go around!”
How cool is this? Huh? Huh? That’s right-my books! In a STORE! Animal Mischief was there too! Piles of them! I had to sit down.
All work and no play makes Laura’s “similar to a four year old’s” fussiness set in, so in between presentations, hubby and I scrambled to amass as much swag as possible. Free buttons-thank you very much. Why, a tote bag-thank you, I’ll take two. Free McDonald’s McFrappy thingy-”honey I’m finished with this one, go sneak back up there and grab me another. Push that kid out of the way, he’s too young for caffeine, it will stunt his growth. Here, wave my ‘author’ badge, and see if it gets you extra whip.” I also managed to glom onto THE must have accessory of the day, among girls anyway, a sun parasol in the highly prized and rare aqua blue. Hubby was not so fortunate in his search for the foam turtle hat that while unisex, seemed more popular with the boys. I,of course, wanted both.
One of the highlights of the day was spotting the various book characters, obviously student volunteers in large, foam suits of dubious cleanliness. We saw a rather pasty Junie B., a slightly linty Hungry Caterpillar, a Wild Thing that almost got stuck in the doorway (and me without my video camera) as well as several fast food characters.
“Can you believe that,” I voiced my outrage to hubby over the crass commercialization aimed at kids while I slurped down my third McFrappilicious as the Hamburglar and Grimace waddled by. I turned just in time to see hubby sprinting after them.
No one could possibly want to go to Tucson. This is what the AZ Department of Transportation apparently thought when they made the decision to close all of the exits from I-10 save the first one. Miss it and you’ll be having lunch in Nogales. By some stroke of unusual good fortune, I did not miss it, having spent the last hour of a two hour drive from Phoenix hunched over the wheel squinting intently at each and every sign on the highway, from “Slow Workers Ahead” to the long abandoned Nickerson Farms turnoff (Nickerson Farms being the west of the Mississippi version of Stuckey’s, nut logs included.) I arrived at the University of Arizona’s 17th Annual Conference on Literature and Literacy for Children and Adolescents, dusty and nearly blind, but ready for my presentation. The theme of this year’s conference was Bridging Cultures-Crossing Borders and the featured guests were Pam Munoz Ryan and Rafael Lopez, both of whom have their own blogs I’m sure. MY breakout session topic was Drawing a Bridge: The Challenges and Rewards of Illustrating Another Culture, and I talked primarily about illustrating the books The Best Eid Ever and A Party in Ramadan for Boyds Mills Press. What began as a typical Power Point show became a lively discussion about differences and similarities between cultures, religions, even age groups (kids today with their hair and their music…). One of my goals in illustrating these two particular books was to make the story accessible to all kids, to show the similarities that bind us all together: love of family, sharing with others and attempting new and difficult challenges. The group consensus seemed to be that the book was successful in this respect, as well as being a much needed addition to libraries that are sadly lacking in books for kids who practice the Muslim faith. The day ended with a signing out in the Arizona sunshine complete with a Mariachi group from Davis Bilingual Magnet School. Normally, one might cringe when an eight year old steps up to the mike with a trumpet, but these kids were magnificent, talented and really, really cute, as the twenty photos I snapped can attest to.